Scotland – France: Johnston goal spree continues
France had had a slow start to their Italia’90 campaign, and were still lagging behind after from that abysmal draw in Cyprus. Platini had since come in as manager and was up to his second qualifier in charge here. France had not played any qualifier since November, but had prepared themselves for this game through a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in February (0-0). Scotland, in their most recent qualifier, had also struggled in Cyprus, only securing the win with a last-minute goal from Richard Gough.
Scotland team news
It’s the standard 4-4-2 formation from Roxburgh, and with no real surprises in the team selection.
Mo Johnston was first choice as striker in the team, but it was disputed who should partner him. Scotland had started the campaign for Italia’90 with Brian McClair as Johnston’s partner, but the former had delivered some average performances so far. Ally McCoist had only just returned from injury, but was given the nod here ahead of McClair.
The most troublesome position in the Scottish team was however the left-sided midfielder, where Roxburgh had tried out various players with no or little success. Young Ian Ferguson had however made a decent impression as an early sub against Cyprus, and it only seemed reasonable that he was given a place in the starting line-up here.
Another player returning from injury was Gary Gillespie, who had played just one qualifier so far, the opening qualifier against Norway. He had had a MoM performance there as a right full back, but as new man Gough had impressed in that position since, Gillespie could instead be slotted in as a central defender next to Alex McLeish.
France team news
Platini seems to favour a trio of central midfielders. This time his formation was a 5-3-2 WB, an adjustment to the more attacking-minded 4-3-3 that he had used in Belgrade.
The team was more or less identical to the one used in the important friendly played against the Republic of Ireland in February (0-0), in which Platini had introduced the 5-3-2 WB formation. (Since then, France had played an unofficial friendly against Arsenal too, losing 2-0 at Highbury on 14 February).
The most important change in the team selection was the introduction of uncapped Thierry Laurey (Sochaux) as central midfielder. He joined midfielders Laurent Blanc and Jean-Philippe Durand, who did not have much more experience at international level, having in total amassed 4 caps before this evening. Fielding Laurey as midfielder, Platini pushed Sauzée to the right wing-back position. Sauzée had been one of the more positive players against Yugoslavia (a), albeit as an inside midfielder. Platini did admittedly not have a plethora of options for the wing-back position, and it probably did seem wise to employ Sauzée there.
The midfield was relatively untested at this level, but experience was secured through Patrick Battiston, who had been tempted out of international retirement by Platini. He would play as a libero between the two man-markers. There was also place in the line-up for Franck Silvestre, who had earned his first cap against the Rep. of Ireland and done well in keeping Tony Cascarino quiet. He would be a man-marker here in the absence of Basile Boli, who was banned after picking up two yellow cards in the qualification so far.
Stylish performer Jean Tigana had been selected for the squad, but had to pull out because of injury on 3 March.
|1 Jim Leighton||30||Manchester Utd.|
|2 Richard Gough||26||Rangers|
|3 Maurice Malpas||26||Dundee Utd.|
|4 Roy Aitken||30||Celtic|
|5 Alex McLeish (c)||30||Aberdeen|
|6 Gary Gillespie||28||Liverpool|
|7 Steve Nicol||27||Liverpool|
|8 Paul McStay||24||Celtic|
|9 Ally McCoist||sub 73′||25||Rangers|
|10 Ian Ferguson||sub 56′||21||Rangers|
|11 Mo Johnston||25||Nantes|
|12 Andy Goram||24||Hibernian|
|13 David Speedie||29||Coventry City|
|14 Gordon Strachan||on 56′||32||Manchester Utd.|
|15 Brian McClair||on 73′||25||Manchester Utd.|
|16 Kevin Gallacher||22||Dundee Utd.|
France (5–3–2 WB)
|1 Joël Bats||32||Paris SG|
|2 Manuel Amoros (c)||27||Monaco|
|3 Franck Silvestre||21||Sochaux|
|4 Luc Sonor||26||Monaco|
|5 Patrick Battiston||31||Monaco|
|6 Franck Sauzée||23||Marseille|
|7 Jean-Philippe Durand||sub 59′||28||Toulouse|
|8 Thierry Laurey||25||Sochaux|
|9 Jean-Pierre Papin||25||Marseille|
|10 Laurent Blanc||23||Montpellier|
|11 Daniel Xuereb||sub 73′||29||Paris SG|
|12 Sylvain Kastendeuch||25||Metz|
|13 Albert Cartier||28||Metz|
|14 Stéphane Paille||on 59′||23||Sochaux|
|15 Christian Perez||on 73′||25||Paris SG|
|16 Bruno Martini||27||Auxerre|
Match report – 1st half
This was an encounter played between two different styles of football. Scotland with their direct approach, France with their will to play through the middle.
McCoist and Johnston
The key battle of the first half was contested between the two Scottish forwards and the two French man-markers: Ally McCoist vs Franck Silvestre and Mo Johnston vs Luc Sonor.
Roxburgh’s tactical instruction here was to bypass the midfield area and play direct balls forward in the direction of McCoist and Johnston. Scotland would otherwise likely have found it difficult to make transitions from midfield to attack; the central midfield was congested (with France having a surplus player) and Steve Nicol probably their only realistic hope in the wide positions.
And McCoist and Johnston proved to be excellent focal points for Scotland’s build-up play here, and were instrumental as the home side managed to retain long spells of pressure from the beginning of the match. The two forwards worked tirelessly to free themselves from the man-markers Silvestre and Sonor and by dropping deep to collect the ball were successful in bringing the midfielders into play.
In this way, it didn’t matter if Scotland were in inferior numbers in central midfield or if there were questions about their quality in the wide departments. The direct approach was sufficient to establish play high up the field and make sure Scotland were on top of the game.
More important than the two forwards’ ability to hold-up the ball, however, was the recklessness of Sonor and Silvestre. The two man-markers were persistently fouling McCoist and Johnston, as they continued diving into tackles.
They may have been instructed to tackle hard, but here it bordered on the ridiculous at times, as it almost appeared that they couldn’t get into a tussle with McCoist or Johnston without committing a foul. The cost of this aggressive tackling was of course that Scotland were given a plethora of free-kicks – which happen to be one of Scotland’s main weapons.
Standard for Scotland in these situations was to hoist the ball in the direction of Richard Gough, whose reputation for towering headers was growing by the day. His two goals against Cyprus last month had of course both been at set-pieces. The number of free-kicks ensured that Scotland could move players forwards and establish a presence in the final third, while France struggled to find their own tempo on the ball.
Not unsurprisingly, it was through a set-piece that Scotland would score the opening goal.
(This time it was however not a free-kick prompted by a foul on McCoist or Johnston, but a minor offence committed by Xuereb on Gillespie just beyond the midway line.)
Gough couldn’t connect with the free-kick that was hoisted in his direction, but McCoist picked up the loose ball and fired a tame shot which by chance proved to be an excellent pass to Mo Johnston who found himself one on one with the French goalkeeper. Johnston had been left unattended in the melee, and calmly placed his shot. 1-0. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but France did crumble to the pressure they had seen themselves under since the start of the game.
This was Mo Johnstons 4th goal of the Italia’90 campaign, making him the top goalscorer of the UEFA qualification zone so far.
France play through the middle
As against Yugoslavia away in November, France were playing with three central midfielders, Platini wanting to dominate play in midfield and play through the middle.
In theory, Platini had a strong central line here that was designed to transit the ball from defence to attack, with Battiston linking defence and midfield, Xuereb connecting midfield and attack. The idea was for these players to combine their way forward by overloading Scotland in the middle.
The big question here was the unproven midfield trio, which had almost no experience at this level. The inexperience did perhaps also show, as it took considerable time before France managed to establish any play in the middle, taking advantage of their 3 v 2 in this section of the pitch. They seemed intimidated by Scotland’s high tempo on the ball, unable to dictate tempo on their own conditions.
Gradually, however, and more and more so after going a goal down, the French managed to impose themselves by taking advantage of their strong central spine. Battiston played some incisive forward passes, Xuereb did well to lay the ball off and the three central midfielders at times ran over the Scottish midfield, as they always seemed to getting themselves into space. Some of the best attacking moves in this game were produced by France, although they rarely managed to get behind the Scottish defence, and were restricted to long shots.
Wing-backs giving no support
Wing-backs are usually vital in a 5-3-2 WB system, but the attacking contributions from Amoros and Sauzée in this game were few and meagre.
Amoros did manage to get into the Scottish half at times. True to his playing style, he battled his way forward with the ball at feet (mirroring his opponent Nicol), but he rarely knew what to do with the ball once high up the pitch. Sauzée, moreover, appeared to be cautious because of (the anonymous) Ian Ferguson, and perhaps also uncomfortable in his new position.
In particular the use of Sauzée was a disappointment from this perspective. A midfielder by profession, Sauzée had nothing to offer going forward on the night – in distinct contrast with the qualifier in Belgrade, where he made some intelligent running and was one of France’s best players.
The lack of support from the wing-backs was also in stark contrast to the game in Belgrade, where the 4-3-3 formation ensured that France were threatening in the wide areas throughout the game. More lateral movement probably should have been expected from Xuereb here.
Match report – 2nd half
No changes at half-time, and the 2nd half did unfold very much in the manner of the 1st: Scotland hoisting the ball forward, France playing their way through the middle.
2-0 (53′): Johnston again!
Scotland added to their lead 8 minutes into the second half, and again it was Mo Johnston with the goal for the home side – his 5th in the qualification so far.
Again not very pretty, but efficient football from the Scots: The attack had only been instigated by a pass simply being hoisted forward from Richard Gough from the deep of his right back position. Luc Sonor’s clumsy attempt to control the loose ball made him a prey for the tireless and attentive McCoist, who rewon possession near the byline.
McCoist set up Nicol to swing in a beautiful cross aimed in the space between Bats and the defence, which Johnston was the first to connect to. Bats first parried Johnston’s header, but then fumbled the ball over the goal line. 2-0.
The Scottish left midfielder issue: Strachan on for ineffectual Ferguson
Roxburgh made a change shortly after the goal, replacing youngster Ian Ferguson with Gordon Strachan in the 56th minute. The substitution was probably prompted by a desire to shore up things, with the vastly experienced Strachan coming on for youngster Ferguson.
Strachan took his usual position to the wide right, prompting a switch for the versatile Steve Nicol from right to left.
As mentioned in the preview, Roxburgh was insistent on using the 4-4-2 formation, but seemingly couldn’t find a proper left-sided midfielder. Ferguson’s performance this evening had probably not given him any positive answer: his performance had been a mediocre one. He is not a natural wide-player, and did seem to be a bit lost for ideas when advancing down the left flank with the ball at feet. He seemed more comfortable the times that he drifted inside, however.
Nicol, however, was thriving all evening. It is not that Nicol is the most skilled wide-player in Europe. He does however possess the tenacity and work rate to make the most out of whatever position he is asked to play in. He produced some powerful running at Amoros.
He probably had more success as a right-sided midfielder this evening than after switching to the opposite side, but Scotland were also less intent on attacking once going 2-0 up.
No comeback from France
The 2-0 goal prompted Platini to bring on substitute Stéphane Paille, as the in-form Sochaux man replaced Durand (59′). Usually a forward by profession, Paille joined Blanc and Laurey in the central midfield constellation.
There was half an hour left to stage a comeback, but France never managed to find the goal that could bring them back into the game – despite enjoying a majority of the possession and continuing to have a big presence in the middle of the park. Later, Platini also introduced Cristian Perez for Xuereb (73′), a player more able to take on defenders.
There was the occasional chance for the visitors to find a reducer, in the main through Jean-Pierre Papin, but he was ultimately denied by Jim Leighton, who enjoyed a brilliant match here – probably one of his very best for Scotland. The central defence in front of him was excellent too, instrumental in denting the many attacking movements that sprung from the French midfield.
Two contrasting approaches, as Platini wishes to play through the middle and Roxburgh instructs his men to play direct passes to McCoist and Johnston. Both were successful, but Scotland were on top from the start and got the important first goal. The tireless McCoist and Johnston were instrumental in everything Scotland did, and Johnston scored two goals bringing his total to five so far in the qualification.
Scotland could never win the midfield battle, but solved this problem wisely by bypassing that area of the pitch. France were supposed to win the midfield battle, and eventually did so under the direction of inexperienced trio Laurey, Blanc and Durand. Despite a number of attractive build-ups, they seemed unable to penetrate the Scottish central defence, which was rock solid. France again showing promise, but their midfield took time to grow into the game and at 2-0 it was all but over.
1 Leighton 7.3
2 Gough 6.8
3 Malpas 6.7
4 Aitken 6.7
5 McLeish 7.4
6 Gillespie 7.5
7 Nicol 7.2
8 McStay 7.0
9 Johnston 7.7
10 Ferguson 6.6
(14 Strachan 6.9)
11 McCoist 7.5
(15 McClair –)
1 Bats 6.5
2 Amoros 7.0
3 Silvestre 6.5
4 Sonor 6.3
5 Battiston 7.0
6 Sauzée 6.7
7 Durand 6.7
(14 Paille 6.8)
8 Laurey 7.1
9 Papin 6.9
10 Blanc 7.2
11 Xuereb 6.6
(15 Perez –)